AURES HABET ET NON AUDIET.
The old man remained still. He was not thinking, hardly even dreaming. All about him was peace, drowsiness, confidence, solitude. It was still daylight on the dune, but almost night on the plain, and entirely so in the woods. The moon was rising in the east. A few stars pierced the pale blue of the zenith. This man, though full of tremendous cares, had plunged himself into the unspeakable tenderness of the infinite. He felt arising in him that obscure dawn of hope, if the word hope can be applied to the expectations of civil war. For the moment, it seemed to him that in escaping from the sea which had been so inexorable to him, and in touching land, all danger had vanished. No one knew his name, he was alone, lost to the enemy, without a trace left behind him, for the surface of the sea betrays nothing, concealed, ignored, not even suspected. He felt a strange, supreme composure. A little more and he would have been asleep.
It was the profound silence over the earth and in the heavens which had for this man, who had been a prey to tumult within and without, such a strange charm in this serene hour.
Nothing was heard except the wind blowing from the sea, but the wind is a continuous bass, which almost ceases to be a sound, it is so habitual.
Suddenly, he started to his feet.
His attention had just been abruptly awakened; he looked about the horizon. Something gave his eye a peculiar fixed expression.
He was looking at the steeple of Cormeray, directly in front of him beyond the plain. Indeed, something extraordinary was taking place in this steeple.
The outline of this steeple was clearly defined; the tower could be seen, surmounted by the spire, and between the tower and the spire, the belfry, square, without screen, and open on all four sides, according to the style of Breton bell towers.
But this belfry appeared alternately open and closed at regular intervals; its lofty window showed all white, then all black; the sky could be seen through, then it was seen no longer; it would be light, then eclipsed, and the opening and shutting followed each other a second apart, with the regularity of a hammer on an anvil.
This steeple in Cormeray was about two leagues away in front of the old man; just about as far to his right on the horizon, he saw the steeple of Baguer-Pican; the belfry of this steeple was opening and shutting in the same way as that in Cormeray.
He looked to his left at the steeple of Tanis; the belfry of the tower at Tanis was opening and shutting just the same as that at Baguer-Pican.
He looked at all the steeples on the horizon, one after another, to the left, the steeples of Courtils, of Précey, of Crollon, and of Croix-Avranchin; to the right, the steeples of Raz-sur-Couesnon, Mordrey, and the Pas; in front of him, the steeple of Pontorson. The belfries of all the steeples were alternately black and white.
What did it all mean?
It signified that all the bells were ringing.
To appear and disappear in this way they must be pulled furiously.
What was it then? evidently the tocsin.
They were sounding the alarm, sounding it frantically, sounding it everywhere, in all the belfries, in every parish, in every village, and not a sound reached his ears.
This was owing to the distance, which prevented the sounds from reaching so far, and because of the sea breeze blowing from the opposite direction, which carried all land noises far away from him.
All these bells madly calling from every side, and at the same time, silence; nothing could be more weird.
The old man looked and listened.
He did not hear the tocsin, but he saw it.
To see the tocsin—a strange sensation.
With whom are these bells angry?
Against whom is this tocsin sounding?